Cablegate: Embassy Tokyo
DE RUEHKO #2993/01 3010820
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 270820Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY TOKYO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8294
INFO RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
Cable dated:2008-10-27T08:20:00C O N F I D E N T I A L TOKYO 002993SIPDISDEPT FOR EAP/J, ISN/CTR, ISN/MNSA, ISN/NESS DOE FOR KBAKER, NA-20E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2018TAGS: PARM ENRG TRGY NRR MNUC PUNE JA
Classified By: Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer; reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: Lower House Diet Member Taro Kono voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security during a dinner with a visiting staffdel, Energy Attache and Economic Officer October 21. Kono also criticized the Japanese bureaucracy and power companies for continuing an outdated nuclear energy strategy, suppressing development of alternative energy, and keeping information from Diet members and the public. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the current election campaign law. End Summary.
2. (C) Member of the House of Representatives Taro Kono spoke extensively on nuclear energy and nuclear fuel reprocessing during a dinner with a visiting staffdel, Energy Attache and Economic Officer October 21. Kono, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party first elected in 1996, is the son of Yohei Kono, a former President of the LDP who is currently the longest serving speaker of the House in post-war history. Taro Kono, who studied and worked in the United States and speaks excellent English, is a frequent embassy contact who has interests in agriculture, nuclear, and foreign policy issues. He is relatively young, and very outspoken, especially as a critic of the government’s nuclear policy. During this meeting, he voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear fuel reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security. Kono claimed Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy, while successfully selling the idea of reprocessing to the Japanese public as “recycling uranium.” He asserted that Japan’s reprocessing program had been conceived as part of a nuclear cycle designed to use reprocessed fuel in fast breeder reactors (FBR). However, these reactors have not been successfully deployed, and Japan’s prototype FBR at Monju is still off-line after an accident in 1995.
3. (C) Kono said following the accident at the Monju FBR, rather than cancel plans to conduct reprocessing, the electric companies developed the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program. However, Kono criticized the MOX program as too expensive, noting it would be cheaper to just “buy a uranium mountain in Australia,” or to make a deal to import uranium from other sources. Kono claimed the high costs of the reprocessing program were being passed to Japanese consumers in their power bills, and they were unaware of how much they paid for electricity relative to people in other countries. In describing the clout wielded by the electric companies, Kono claimed that a Japanese television station had planned a three part interview with him on nuclear issues, but had canceled after the first interview, because the electric companies threatened to withdraw their extensive sponsorship.
4. (C) In addition to the electric companies, Kono was also very critical of the Japanese ministries, particularly the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). He claimed the ministries were trapped in their policies, as officials inherited policies from people more senior to them, which they could then not challenge. As an example, Kono noted that Japanese radiation standards for imported foods had been set following the Chernobyl incident, and had not changed since then, despite other nations having reduced their levels of allowable radiation.
5. (C) In a similar way, he alleged, METI was committed to advocating for nuclear energy development, despite the problems he attributed to it. Kono noted that while METI claimed to support alternative energy, it in actuality provides little support. He claimed that METI in the past had orchestrated the defeat of legislation that supported alternatives energy development, and instead secured the passage of the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) act. This act simply requires power companies to purchase a very small amount of their electricity from alternative sources. Kono also criticized the government’s handling of subsidies to alternative energy projects, noting that the subsidies were of such short duration that the projects have difficulty finding investors because of the risk and uncertainty involved. As a more specific example of Japan neglecting alternative energy sources, Kono noted there was abundant wind power available in Hokkaido that went undeveloped because the electricity company claimed it did not have sufficient grid capacity. Kono noted there was in fact an unused connection between the Hokkaido grid and the Honshu grid that the companies keep in reserve for unspecified emergencies. He wanted to know why they could not just link the grids and thus gain the ability to add in more wind power.
6. (C) He also accused METI of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry. He claimed MPs have a difficult time hearing the whole of the U.S. message on nuclear energy because METI picks and chooses those portions of the message that it likes. Only information in agreement with METI policies is passed through to the MPs. Elaborating on his frustrations with the ministries, Kono noted that the Diet committee staffs are made up of professional bureaucrats, and are often headed by detailees from the ministries. He said he had no authority to hire or fire committee staff, and that any inquiries he made to them quickly found their way back to the ministries.
7. (C) Kono also raised the issue of nuclear waste, commenting that Japan had no permanent high-level waste storage, and thus no solution to the problem of storage. He cited Japan’s extensive seismic activity, and abundant groundwater, and questioned if there really was a safe place to store nuclear waste in the “land of volcanoes.” He noted that Rokkasho was only intended as a temporary holding site for high-level waste. The Rokkasho local government, he said, had only agreed to store waste temporarily contingent on its eventual reprocessing. Kono said that in this regard, the US was better off that Japan because of the Yucca mountain facility. He was somewhat surprised to hear about opposition to that project, and the fact that Yucca had not yet begun storing waste.
8. (C) In describing how he would deal with Japan’s future energy needs, Kono claimed Japan needed to devise a real energy strategy. He said while he believed Japan eventually would have to move to 100% renewable energy, in the meantime he advocated replacing energy produced by nuclear plants ready for decommissioning with an equal amount of energy from plants using liquid natural gas. To this he would add new renewable energy sources.
9. (C) Kono also made a few side remarks concerning the Japanese election process. He expressed dissatisfaction with the current election campaign law, which he called outdated. He noted, for example, that during the official campaign period he was not allowed to actively campaign on the Internet. He said he could print flyers during this time, but only a limited number, which had to be picked up by constituents at his campaign office. So, to get around these and other limitations, MPs had to campaign before the official campaign period began. Given the current uncertainty on a date for elections, he noted in a humorous manner that if the government delayed elections long enough, he and the other MPs would go broke.